Pro-government forces have withdrawn from the port city, saying they are redeploying under a 2018 ceasefire agreement.
Forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognized government have withdrawn from the strategic port city of Hodeida, allowing Houthi rebels to retake key positions there, Yemeni officials and the United Nations have said.
Fighters from the pro-government Joint Forces, founded and funded by the United Arab Emirates, said late Friday that they had relocated troops away from Hodeidah because there has been a ceasefire there since 2018.
“The joint forces have acknowledged the mistake of remaining in defensive barricades, unable to fight under an international pact, while various front lines are demanding support,” they said in a statement.
A UN mission observing the ceasefire said it had not been announced before the withdrawal and that pro-government forces had withdrawn from their positions in Hodeidah, Yemen’s main entry point for imports and aid, and south of the city, allowing the rebels to take over. .
On Saturday, security officials and residents said the Houthis had gathered dozens of people they accuse of supporting the government.
Meanwhile, other pro-government forces remaining in Hodeidah prefecture have repulsed an attack by Houthi south of the city, officials said. At least three pro-government officers, including a field commander, were killed, they added.
Officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak with the media, and residents did so for fear of retaliation.
Fighting erupted in Hodeidah in mid-2018 after coalition-backed government forces relocated to take control of the Houthis ’strategic port. After months of clashes, the warring sides signed the ceasefire in December that year and agreed to an exchange of more than 16,000 prisoners.
The agreement – seen as a major first step to ending a conflict that destroyed Yemen – was never fully implemented and the Joint Forces accused the Houthis of repeatedly violating the 2018 agreement.
The war in Yemen began with the takeover in 2014 of the capital Sanaa by the Houthis, who control much of the north of the country. A Saudi-led coalition – which included the UAE – entered the war in 2015, aimed at restoring the government and eliminating the rebels.
The conflict has since become a regional proxy war that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and fighters. The war has also created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages and pushing the country to the brink of starvation.
In recent months, the Houthis have attacked government forces in different locations, including the provinces of Shabwa, Bayda and Marib, despite calls by the UN, the US and others to stop fighting and engage in negotiations to find a solution to the conflict.
Government forces repulsed the rebels in fierce fighting south of the crucial city of Marib, the provincial capital, officials on both sides said on Saturday.
As part of intensified efforts to end the war, Washington pressed Riyadh to end restrictions on coalition warships on ports held by Houthi, a condition of the group to begin ceasefire negotiations.
The blockade is a major factor in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.